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Inherited Alzheimer’s detectable 20 years before dementia

Results from a Washington University Alzheimer’s study show the disease may be detectable decades before onset of dementia

July 20, 2011

Inherited forms of Alzheimer’s disease may be detectable as many as 20 years before problems with memory and thinking develop, scientists with the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer’s Network (DIAN) reported at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Paris.

Washington University researchers John Morris, MD, Harvey A. and Dorismae Hacker Friedman Professor of Neurology, and Randall Bateman, MD, are director and associate director respectively of DIAN, the largest study yet of rare forms of dominantly inherited Alzheimer’s.

Initial DIAN results confirm and expand upon earlier insights from studies of the more common sporadic forms of Alzheimer’s, including data suggesting that changes in the levels of biological markers in the spinal fluid can be detected years before dementia.

Planning for prevention trials

The results, says Bateman, demonstrate the feasibility of clinical trials to prevent Alzheimer’s in DIAN participants. Planning for those trials, which may start as early as next year, is currently under way.

DIAN researchers are studying members of families who have changes, or mutations, in one of three genes: amyloid precursor protein, presenilin 1 or presenilin 2. Participants with these mutations are certain to develop Alzheimer’s disease early, with symptoms beginning in their 50s, 40s, or, in some rare cases, 30s.

DIAN, which includes research centers in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, is supported by funding from the National Institute on Aging. To date, 184 participants have been enrolled, nearly half the overall recruitment goal. This has allowed initial comparisons among participants who carry a genetic mutation for Alzheimer’s but are still asymptomatic, those who have a mutation and have Alzheimer symptoms, and those who do not have a mutation and thus are unaffected.

To read more about the study and access an audio report, visit the Newsroom.

For more information about Alzheimer’s research, visit Washington University’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and Hope Center.